The World Cup we knew how to achieve | zenithal

Qatar, the virtual center of the planet as of next Sunday, is under scrutiny. It will be the first Arab country to host a World Cup and the West, paternalistic, points with mistrust. He is not talking about Lionel Messi, Neymar or Kylian Mbappé, but about democracy, exploited workers and sexual diversity. Human Rights organizations also take advantage of the global stage of the ball and, with reason, ask us that, in addition to football, we look with vigilant eyes at the small petro-monarchy of the Arabian Gulf. Human Rights Watch, founded in 1978 in New York, even offers us a questionnaire with ten questions that journalists who are going to the World Cup, it tells us, should formulate every time we have FIFA officials before us. One of those questions asks the following: “What is FIFA doing to ensure that migrant workers have the same freedom as all World Cup tourists, such as watching the games and mingling with the visitors?”

Qatar will be my ninth World Cup. And I really don’t remember seeing many workers in the World Cup stadiums, especially since the FIFA Cups became a big real estate business and a privilege for few. In the already democratic South Africa of Nelson Mandela (2010 Cup) the World Cup (welcome because it was the first on African soil) was also a kind of FIFA flying saucer, especially for the people of the populous black neighborhood of Soweto. The price of tickets was obviously impossible to pay for most of its inhabitants.

In Brazil 2014, the stadiums had a majority white public. The blacks accommodated in the seats, served refreshments or could be policemen. They were not among that massive public that fiercely insulted President Dilma Rousseff and anticipated that a monster named Jair Bolsonaro would arrive. It was more difficult for me to determine if there were construction workers in the stadiums of Russia 2018, the World Cup that Vladimir Putin, according to the narrative, organized to distract us from his plans. If a World Cup serves to “show off to the world”, Russia does not seem the best example. Four years later, through the invasion of Ukraine, he suffers widespread rejection.


Should we really ask FIFA why there will be no migrant workers among the million tourists who will attend the luxurious stadiums of the World Cup that begins on November 20 in Qatar? The Western narrative about the Middle East, about the Arab, Muslim world, about the monarchies that rule in the wealth of the Arabian Gulf, omits the colonial past and accentuated its inquisitive gaze since, in 2010, Qatar unexpectedly won the FIFA vote, beating a giant like the United States in the final wheel. Angry, the FBI in 2015 launched the FIFAGate that brought down that old corrupt FIFA, but could not find direct evidence of Qatari bribery.

The power then suggested to Qatar that it should share the World Cup, especially with the powerful Saudi Arabia. In the midst of a bid, neighboring countries even imposed a regional blockade on Qatar. But Qatar never gave in. Criticism has intensified in recent weeks, given the imminence of the Cup, especially remembering the super-modern stadiums, built with slave labor. And misleading figures of dead workers. Qatar responds by accusing the West of “racism”. There is the French newspaper Le Canard Enchainé, which days ago graphed all possible stereotypes: a Qatari selection of angry “savages” with “long beards” and armed with rocket launchers, AK-47s, a bomb strapped to their waist and a knife. backward and violent Arabs.

Qatar rightly invokes the World Cup as a force for change to bury old exploitative laws and presents itself as a reforming pioneer in the region. But the incidents, it is more than likely, could continue in the middle of the World Cup. Local observers (I was in Doha two weeks ago) tell me that the most conservative Qatar is nervously watching the arrival of non-sports journalists who will poke around outside the stadiums and also football-oriented tourists who, possibly, will force the relaxation of Islamic laws. It is an unpleasant scenario for that conservative sector that looks at everything with mistrust. The World Cup is many things at once. For Qatar, it may be a litmus test for its entry into the so-called modern world.

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Among the many pre-World Cup documentaries on TV, in addition to Leo Messi’s dramatized harangue to his teammates in the preview of the Copa América won at the Maracaná (“Be eternal champions of America”), there is one from Netflix that seeks to explain the unexpected Qatar World Cup. “FIFA Uncovered” or “The ins and outs of FIFA”, tells us about the ambition of the former FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, to retire perhaps with a Nobel Peace Prize, giving Russia the 2018 World Cup in that double vote of 2010 and that of 2022 to the United States. But ignoring that the greed that he himself had allowed among his leadership ended up overflowing him. They were the votes that allowed Qatar to beat the United States 14-8 in the final vote. Of course, Blatter also reminds us that the greed was not only from the Third World, from Latin American or African leaders. He assures that part of Europe also voted for Qatar. Part of the same Europe that now wants to boycott, albeit symbolically, that World Cup that they were able to achieve.

My first World Cup was precisely Argentina 78. FIFA kept its headquarters there despite the fact that our country had been suffering from the worst of its dictatorships for two years before. Qatar 2022 is also not a democratic government. But it is difficult to find democracies in the region. The European colonizer balkanized the Gulf to continue dominating. And, within those small states, Qatar has grown on its own in recent years. First was the creation of Al Jazeera, the news network that, at least outside of Qatar, enjoys remarkable freedom of information to investigate neighboring governments and the rest of the world, even giving its own name to a certain powerful press, an accomplice of dictatorships in Latin America. , a taboo subject for other large international chains. Following its entry into media control, Qatar was then drawn into the greatest “soft power” machine in the modern world: football.

First was the purchase of the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) club, which today has three of the best players in the world (their faces are on the Doha subways and shops): Messi, Neymar and Mbappé. And then there was the 2022 World Cup. It was too much ostentation. For jealous neighbors and also for the Old World. And, well-intentioned or not, also for those who now tell us what questions we journalists should ask FIFA officials. Others directly ask that we boycott Qatar. Sport as a moral shortcut. Similar questions have never been asked to buy oil or sell wealth to Qatari gold, from hotels to art galleries in the main European capitals. But yes with the World Cup. And, furthermore, there were also no questions asked when a World Cup or Olympic Games was being held, say, in the United States, while that same host country was invading or at war with other nations. A former ambassador to the region describes the “hypocrisy” to me with absolute crudeness: “Italy got tired of killing Libyans and organized two World Cups, France killed thousands of Algerians and organized another, England better not tell them and the United States is responsible for the 90 percent of the wars and also organized one and soon another. Did you remember all that on those occasions?”


What is the yardstick that measures which country can morally organize a World Cup? The new FIFA of Gianni Infantino promised that the next venues must embrace the commitment to respect human rights. It is the same Infantino who settled in Doha for months. And that, given the imminence of the World Cup, he now asks us not to allow the ball “to be dragged into all the ideological or political battles that exist” and that we then do like Quique Wolff’s old program on ESPN: “Let’s talk about soccer ”.

These last lines go to pay attention to him. Historically, a World Cup usually occupies the center of our lives in Argentina, a soccer country. We always thought we were the best, only the world didn’t recognize it. “Soccer was played for the first time in England, but invented in Argentina”, an old writer ironized. And not only did we not win World Cups, but even worse, we ended up not qualifying (Mexico 70) or leaving humiliated (Germany 74). Until the conquest of the 1978 Cup, Pato Fillol’s saves and Mario Kempes’ goals came in the following World Cup. Then, there were the miracles of Diego Maradona in Mexico 86. And, already in the last World Cups, it was Messi.

Curious, at 35 years old, in his fifth World Cup, relieved perhaps by the conquest of the last Copa América in the Maracana, but above all himself already grown up, he is again Messi, his remarkable state of form, his mature desire to win finally a World Cup, which fuels Argentina’s greatest hope. Also, of course, there is the team, because it grew after that conquest, including its low-key coaching staff, led by Lionel Scaloni. In recent months, it is true, some of those players lowered their level and injuries also arrived (the absence of Giovanni Lo Celso is not minor). Never did a World Cup have its stars playing for their clubs until just days before the debut. The anger of the big European clubs for the World Cup, which was moved to November-December to avoid the summer of hell in Qatar, ended up putting psychological pressure on the players. And exposing their bodies too much until the last moment. There are weight cracks that will be left without a World Cup after suffering childhood injuries. Despite this, Qatar 2022, like few World Cups before, continues to offer remarkable sensations when the game begins.

The Cup will have many good players at peak performance. And plenty of good teams with even aspirations to win the title (ten, Scaloni himself said). If it passes the first stage, as it should, Argentina will have a litmus test very soon in the second round, when it is supposed to face the current world champion (Mbappé’s France) or one of the best European teams of the last year. (Denmark). And perhaps the Brazil full of great stars does not arrive as a candidate? And Germany? Belgium? England? Sometimes, such the local euphoria, it seems that the rivals do not matter, that only Argentina should win in Qatar. Our team, it is true, is a little short of the ideal, but nothing is left over either. Their collective commitment excites and spreads. Promotes optimism. And Messi there. Inviting the collective dream. That of a country that does not make ends meet. But he does feel that, at least, he can be king of the ball.

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The World Cup we knew how to achieve | zenithal